Op-Ed: Thrown to the wolves

We don’t expect much from the state. We may blame it for not doing enough, but, deep down we have known for a while now that, with or without our consent, the state has resigned itself from providing most public services. We the people know, whether we say it aloud or not, we are on our own.

We show this in many ways. Those of us who can afford to do so lock ourselves in our gated communities; we substitute public goods such as schools and hospitals with private providers. We rely on our families for support in case of financial stress and look at NGOs when our families can’t.

When, in those unfortunate circumstances, we have to come eye to eye with the state — be it in a police station or the local court. We hold our breath because we know we won’t be treated fairly. Then, at these moments, who can blame us for trying to grease the wheel of the state, from the not-so-rare bribe to the bureaucrat or calling in a favour from someone who exceeds our influence. We do what we can to make our lives easier.

But, as much as we try to create our islands of sanity, we are struck by how much we can’t do. So much of the state we can’t escape.If the last few weeks are a witness to anything, they are to state’s absolute lack of foresight. A trait which has cursed the last seventy decades of our existence, and is likely to damn the future seventy.

Its one thing to just resign its role, the state, it seems now, is pushing us actively into an abyss. Either through its incompetence, or the explicit promotion of such a future.  Another scenario, which is even more startling, is the fact some parts of the state are working against other parts of it. What other striking indication of the polarisation of our country does one need?

Observe the misery of the past few weeks again. A better state would have taken action sooner and wouldn’t have allowed a few thousand radicals to push their demands down the throats of a popularly elected parliament. A fairer state would have shown these radicals the same gratitude — or lack thereof — it shows to protesting farmers and teachers.If only these teachers or farmers used religion to further their demands, they would have returned with a thousand rupees in cash the way these radicals did.

Where do we go from here? One route, which seems to be taken by many of us, is closing our eyes and wishing the state away. But, the problem isn’t just the state anymore. It’s us, well, some of us at least. The radicals, or fundamentalists, among us. They maybe a minority, but as history shows us, they know how to get their demands met, and in the case where the state is willing to throw us to their mercy, we can’t ignore the state anymore.

From where things stand today, we’re creating a dystopia where the radicals among us will define how our society is shaped, while the state takes an approach which concedes to them. In a future defined by this bigotry and impulse reactions we’re unlikely to make any progress, whether economic or social.

I for one don’t want to live in this dystopia, do you?

Follow me on Twitter @ShahrukWani

Published by Shahrukh Wani

Economist at International Growth Centre, University of Oxford.

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